Spring Preview 2010 - Pac 10

Posted Mar 22, 2010

The Pac 10 might have some work to do overall, but the star power is there with Jake Locker, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Nick Foles sure to make the league exciting. As spring ball is rolling, here are the big questions, the most important positions and more for each Pac 10 team.

Spring Preview 2010

Pac 10 Spring Preview

2010 Spring Preview  
- 2010 Spring Question ... How much does the Pac 10 need USC? 
- 2010 Pac 10 Player You Must Know - Cal RB Shane Vereen 
- 2010 Pac 10 Offseason Lookback & Lookahead 
- 2010 Pac 10 Schedule Breakdown
- 2010 Pac 10 Composite Schedule  
- 2010 Pac 10 Pre-Preseason Rankings 
- 2010 Pac 10 Recruiting Rankings 
By Richard Cirminiello 

Spring Practice Begins: March 5   Game: April 10

The early spring buzz ... The Wildcats' recent success has come with a price. While head coach Mike Stoops has stayed put, his two successful coordinators have been lured away in the offseason. Brother Mark Stoops is the new defensive coordinator at Florida State and Sonny Dykes is the now the head coach at Louisiana Tech. To fill the openings, Arizona has largely promoted from within rather than go outside the program. With that in mind, don't expect many changes to the playbook, though the holdovers must still get acclimated to some new faces and a few philosophical differences. Unlike a year ago when there was a wide-open derby for the quarterback job, Nick Foles appears set as he enters his second year in Tucson.

The big spring question is ... Can Nic Grigsby make it through an entire season? One of the Pac-10's best backs, no one knows it because he's on the shelf so frequently. A year ago, he was limited to just 79 carries, rarely playing a factor beyond September. When Grigsby and Keola Antolin are rolling on the ground, Arizona enjoys a level of offensive balance that can be maddening for opposing defenses. If the backs can stay on the field all season, it becomes doubly difficult to stop Foles and top receiver Juron Criner.

The most important position to watch is ... linebacker. The ‘Cats could be hurting on defense, as they break in seven new starters and an entirely new corps of linebackers. To address the issue, Stoops went heavy on linebackers in February's recruiting class, signing ready-made JUCO transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo. If they can fend off the young returners, like Trevor Erno, Jake Fischer, and R.J. Young, a spot in the starting lineup awaits both newcomers.

Spring attitude... Back-to-back bowl games have Arizona expecting postseason invites and Pac-10 contention every year. Turning the corner has also ended that persistent speculation about Stoops' job security, a boon when the staff hits the recruiting trail. There's absolutely no reason why the Wildcats won't have a potent offense this fall, especially if Foles keeps evolving in his second year as the starter. How far this team goes will depend on its ability to manage the numerous changes on defense.

Arizona State
Spring Practice Begins: March 30 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... Going 9-15 overall and just 6-12 in the Pac-10 over the last two seasons has the Sun Devils staring at a crossroads season, Dennis Erickson's third one in Tempe. Thanks to a feeble offense and a nasty knack for long losing streaks, Arizona State has sunk toward the bottom of the conference. Erickson has shaken up the staff and sought immediate help from the junior colleges, but there are no quick fixes to reversing the recent trend of mediocrity. The Sun Devils are way behind the rest of the league offensively, and the defense, which was so underrated last fall, is missing six starters from that group.

The big spring question is ... Who'll build some distance in the all-important quarterback battle? Arizona State desperately needs a reliable hurler after finishing 102nd nationally in passing efficiency a year ago. It'll be an intriguing three-man battle involving Brock Osweiler, Samson Szakacsy, and Michigan transfer Steven Threet. The 6-8, 235-pound Osweiler was believed to be the quarterback of the future, but Threet is well-traveled, with a nice combination of arm strength and elusiveness. Szakacsy played some last year and is a terrific athlete, but has had elbow problems and is the long shot.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. Again. This is one of those perennial problems that just doesn't seem to go away for the Sun Devils. Awful in pass protection and unable to create much space for the backs, the unit must now move forward without top blocker Shawn Lauvao, an All-Pac-10 second-teamer at left tackle. If this offense has any chance to make progress, it'll need Garth Gerhart, Jon Hargis, Matt Hustad, Patrick Jamison, Thomas Ohmart, and Andrew Sampson to play with much more consistency.

Spring attitude... Because there are so many jobs up for grabs, this is going to be a very interesting and competitive offseason in Tempe. Aside from defensive tackle, which boasts Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, Arizona State has very few sure things, which can be both exciting and troubling. There's a sense of urgency that starts at the top and is palpable in every corner of the program. Don't get too married to the post-spring depth chart when it's released by Erickson; it's liable to undergo a series of changes in August.

Spring Practice Begins: March 6 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz ... As if the Bears didn't have enough issues on defense already, they lost underrated coordinator Bob Gregory to Boise State. The move caught many in the Bay Area by surprise, especially since it occurred in the middle of February. Jeff Tedford responded quickly by hiring Clancy Pendergast, a well-traveled NFL assistant who's also well-versed in the 3-4 and is expected to bring an attacking mentality. He'll have no time to familiarize himself with a defense that's talented, yet is looking to replace six starters and a pair of first team all-stars. He'll use March and April to get a crash course in the Bear personnel.

The big spring question is ... Is QB Kevin Riley vulnerable …again? Yeah, he's a senior and the incumbent, but Tedford has opened up the competition, seeking far more consistency at the position. While Riley still has the edge heading into spring, he better watch his back and prepare to raise the level of his game. If he can't deliver, Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion are capable of seizing the opportunity. Sweeney, in particular, has a little momentum after jumping Mansion on the depth chart last fall.

The most important position to watch is ... wide receiver. Yeah, Riley has had issues, but it's not as if he's had access to a big-time receiver since DeSean Jackson left Berkeley. This is a marginal collection of talent, with a couple of spots available on the depth chart now that Verran Tucker and Nyan Boateng have graduated. Marvin Jones is a solid No. 1, but he needs more help and he needs to tighten up his game. Beginning in March, Michael Calvin, Alex Lagemann, Jeremy Ross, Isi Sofele, and Jarrett Sparks will all be competing to upgrade this position.

Spring attitude... Forever unpredictable, Cal needs to decide whether it's coming or going in the Pac-10. There's talent. That hasn't been a major issue over the past decade. The Bears, however, have to put it all together, avoid dry spells, and plug some offseason holes, specifically at left tackle, defensive end, and cornerback. In the backfield, Shane Vereen is poised to supplant Jahvid Best and become a star in his first season as the every-down back.

Spring Practice Begins: March 30   Game: May 1

The early spring buzz ... Few schools in America are more eager than Oregon to get back to work and start making headlines on the field. The Ducks sure have made enough away from the field to put head coach Chip Kelly and his assistants in a position to defend the program. Since losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State, they've had a handful of players land on the blotter, including a pair of cornerstones, QB Jeremiah Masoli (suspended for the year) and RB LaMichael James (suspended for the opener). It's been a tough couple of months for Oregon, which already has enough distractions to worry about as the prohibitive Pac-10 favorite. When does practice start?

The big spring question is ... Will the problems of Masoli and James linger into the start of the season? Masoli will be tough to replace, making the quarterback situation a likely ongoing issue through the summer. James, on the other hand, was arrested in February on three counts of domestic violence, a far more serious allegation, but is still a part of the team for 2010. Both players were second-team All-Pac-10 selections a year ago and they have cast an ugly cloud over the program.

The most important position to watch is ... cornerback. Outside of the offensive backfield, which really isn't that big a problem, there are no glaring holes on this team heading into the season. The Ducks, however, would like to build some depth in the secondary, particularly since corners Willie Glasper and Walter Thurmond have run out of eligibility. Talmadge Jackson has one spot locked down, but the other position is open, and developing reliable backups will be a top priority. Cliff Harris is the frontrunner, with Anthony Gildon and Chad Peppars in his rear-view mirror.

Spring attitude... Although Oregon is the favorite to repeat as the Pac-10 champs, the team needs to build some momentum and tune out the noise associated with a rough start to the offseason. It'll get its first chance in the spring. The Ducks want to fine-tune the high-octane offense and start building a pecking order on defense, especially up front and on the last line of defense. Kelly's biggest challenge over the next few months will be keeping his kids' focused and out of trouble.

Oregon State
Spring Practice Begins: March 29   Game: May 1

The early spring buzz ... All is well in Corvallis now that Mike Riley has snubbed USC and signed a long-term contract to stay a Beaver. The one constant during Oregon State's recent run of four straight eight-win seasons, he's had a knack for maximizing the talent around him and blowing past modest expectations. The return of Jacquizz and James Rodgers for another season also has Beaver fans excited about the upcoming season. The electrifying brothers combined for more than 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns a year ago, ensuring that no game is ever out of reach. With a ton starters back on both sides of the ball, Oregon State might not be overlooked for a change this preseason.

The big spring question is ... Can the Beavers develop a pass rusher between now and the opener? Oregon State went the entire 2009 season without finding an adequate replacement for Slade Norris and Victor Butler, finishing 105th nationally in sacks. That has to change if the team is going to take some heat off the secondary later in the fall. Stephen Paea can create chaos from the inside, but far more pressure from the edge will be needed from Kevin Frahm, Taylor Henry, Matt LaGrone, Gabe Miller, and JUCO transfer Dominic Glover.

The most important position to watch is ... quarterback. This is ground zero for the Beavers in 2010, especially after Sean Canfield played so well last fall. Ryan Katz has the inside track after being the backup in 2009. He'll be challenged by Peter Lalich, who'd earned some starts with Virginia before getting the boot and being forced to seek a fresh start. Of course, if former starter Lyle Moevao can get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, the dynamics of this competition will change dramatically.

Spring attitude... With so many familiar faces back, headed by Riley, Oregon State likes its chances to compete for a Pac-10 title for a third straight year. This time around, however, the Beavers are committed to finishing strong and wearing the crown for the first time since 1964. Naturally, quarterback will be the focal point over the next few months. If Katz or Lalich can emerge into a capable, mistake-free distributor to the Rodgers brothers, Oregon State has enough talent elsewhere to go a long way in 2010.

Spring Practice Begins: March 1 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz ... After winning eight games and reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2001, the Cardinal is determined to prove that last year's success was no fluke. It begins that quest in the spring without star RB Toby Gerhart, who's headed to the NFL following one of the best individual efforts in school history. His departure will hasten QB Andrew Luck's inevitable ascent to becoming the face of the program. He's completely healed from the broken finger that kept him out of the Sun Bowl, and on track to becoming one of the Pac-10's best hurlers. The program endured some turnover on Jim Harbaugh's staff, which will allow those new assistants to get acclimated to the Stanford personnel.

The big spring question is ... Is Stanford a one-hit wonder? Actually, the Cardinal will spend the months of March and April working to dismiss this notion. Obviously, plenty of folks are going to assume that the magic dissipated when Gerhart left the Farm. Harbaugh and his holdovers, however, couldn't have a more disparate mindset entering spring. Thanks to the last couple of recruiting classes, Stanford has a bunch of emerging stars, like WR Chris Owusu and LB Shayne Skov, just itching to prove that last season was a lot more than just Gerhart.

The most important position to watch is ... running back. So who succeeds Gerhart anyway? Sophomore Stepfan Taylor is at the head of the line after lettering as a true freshman and playing rather well. A powerful 210-pounder, he turned 56 carries into 303 yards and a pair of scores, getting on the field for all 13 games. And don't forget about senior Jeremy Stewart, the backup in September before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the final eight games.

Spring attitude... After climbing the mountain, relatively speaking, in 2009, Stanford is determined to remain there in 2010. Harbaugh has been building to this point, where winning seasons and bowl games are the absolute minimum requirements each year. He has a budding superstar at quarterback and ample talent on both sides of the ball, which could get a further boost if RT Matt Kopa and CB Richard Sherman are granted additional years of eligibility by the NCAA.

Spring Practice Begins: April 1 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... It's year three of Rick Neuheisel's rebuilding project in Westwood, and there are growing expectations to begin turning the corner and inching up the Pac-10 rankings. While that's a normal reaction to the passing of time, it might not be particularly realistic. The Bruins' three-win improvement a year ago was built largely on a defense that's losing six starters and four all-stars. If this side of the ball can't regroup on the fly, UCLA might be treading water and hovering around the .500 mark once again. Neuheisel has done a predictably sound job in recruiting, and getting some of those young kids implemented into the system as quickly as possible will be an offseason priority.

The big spring question is ... If the defense slips, can the offense pick up any of the slack? The Bruins have been impotent with the ball over the last few seasons, but there are signs of hope. Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Prince is a year older, and presumably, better prepared to excel. The skill positions have hope in up-and-comers, such as backs Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman and receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree. And the line might finally have some stability, with the return of four regulars. It's a start.

The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. After dominating at times up front a year ago, UCLA will be missing All-American DT Brian Price and underrated veterans Korey Bosworth and Jerzy Siewierski. While Datone Jones and Damien Holmes have bright futures on the outside, who's going to plug the holes on the interior? It'll be a big spring for David Carter, Justin Edison, and Andy Keane, among others, who'll get a shot at expanded roles.

Spring attitude... Sans a ton of proven, veteran talent, UCLA positively has to get the underclassmen and the rising juniors up to speed before the season begins in early September. S Rahim Moore is the lone returning all-star from the first or second team, so there's plenty of opportunity for last year's backups and role players to begin making some headlines. How far the Bruins can progress after going 7-6 will depend heavily on the development of Prince and an offense that's fired blanks for far too long.

The early spring buzz ... These are, to say the least, unique times at Troy. Not only are the Trojans coming off their worst campaign since 2001, a four-loss eyesore, but they're also beginning life after Pete Carroll, the architect of seven straight Pac-10 championships. This spring will also mark the unofficial beginning of the Lane Kiffin era at USC, a potential circus, with a little something to offer for everyone. The new staff has a bunch of openings to fill on both sides of the ball and a depth chart flush with uncertainty and competition. Kiffin's top-rated recruiting class could produce dividends right away, as Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter are already enrolled and looking to scale a deep collection of receivers and backs, respectively.

The big spring question is ... How much better is QB Matt Barkley in his second season? Everyone assumes the game will slow down after an up-and-down baptism by fire, but by how much is uncertain. The Trojans are quietly hoping he can make a quantum leap in order to light a spark under an impotent attack that averaged just 20 points over the final six games. All of the physical tools are in place, but now he just has to get more comfortable with his role in the offense. Although Barkley had minor wrist surgery in January, he's expected to be at full speed for the start of spring.

The most important position to watch is ... the secondary. USC must replace all four starters, each an All-Pac-10 selection from a year ago. While the biggest void is left by All-American S Taylor Mays, it won't be easy without Kevin Thomas, Josh Pinkard, or Will Harris either. After CB Shareece Wright, who missed the year for academic reasons, Troy will lean on Carroll's recruiting from the past few seasons. At safety, T.J. McDonald, Drew McAllister, and Jawanza Starling are poised for promotions. The battle to start opposite Wright could revolve around T.J. Bryant, Byron Moore, and Marshall Jones, who missed all of 2009.

Spring attitude... More than anything else, the Trojans want to recapture the swagger and confidence that faded during last year's disappointing season. The talent is in place for USC to end the year in Pasadena. That's never an issue. The next few months are all about getting Kiffin and his staff into the flow and fine-tuning a depth chart that has a few question marks. Besides the defensive backfield, the new staff must also patch up the offensive line and develop some reliable targets for Barkley.

Spring Practice Begins: March 30 Game: April 30

The early spring buzz ... With the wind clearly at their backs, it's no surprise that the Huskies cannot wait to return to the practice field. Everything is pointing toward a long-awaited breakout year for the long-suffering program. Steve Sarkisian begins his second season, fresh off a terrific recruiting class, and the team returns 18 starters, including a future high NFL draft choice in QB Jake Locker. The month of April will be all about keeping the momentum going from a year ago and driving home the teachings of Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The battles for backup jobs, especially at quarterback and running back, should be particularly intense in the spring.

The big spring question is ... How much progress will the defense make from last season? The offense, flush with young talent and a big-time quarterback, is about to make a quantum leap. That makes Holt's D more important than ever. After finishing No. 9 in the league in scoring defense, Washington needs an inside linebacker to replace Donald Butler and two new ends now that Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Darrion Jones have graduated. The secondary needs all the help it can get from the pass rush, so it's incumbent upon ends Kalani Aldrich, Talia Crichton, Andru Pulu, and Everrette Thompson to push each other for snaps.

The most important position to watch is ... backup quarterback. Yeah, it sounds strange, but what happens if the ever-physical Locker is out for any length of time? The Huskies have to ensure that an injury to the franchise doesn't necessarily capsize a season filled with so much promise. Making matters worse, last year's backup, Ronnie Fouch, has transferred to Indiana State and journeyman Taylor Bean has also left the team. That leaves redshirt freshman Keith Price and true freshman Nick Montana, who are suddenly one vicious hit or turned ankle away from being the most important man on campus.

Spring attitude... Capitalize. All of the stars have aligned, giving the Huskies a sense of urgency that they make the most of their good fortune in 2010. It could be a long time before U-Dub has a player of Locker's caliber on campus, so anything short of a postseason return will go down as a squandered opportunity. In fact, many around the program have quietly hinted that with a few breaks and better play from the defense, this team is capable of being a surprise contender in the Pac-10.

Washington State
Spring Practice Begins: March 25 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... Neither pressure nor experience will be major concerns of the Cougars when the spring session begins. Wazzu isn't expected to emerge from the Pac-10 cellar, even though a slew of young players have been recently employed by beleaguered head coach Paul Wulff. It'll have plenty of familiar faces back in 2010, but whether they can execute better on either side of the ball remains a dubious proposition. Because of the youth that still permeates through parts of the depth chart, these 15 practices are especially critical to Washington State. It's a time for the Cougs to continue developing their fundamentals and eliminating the mistakes, without the indignity of a score being kept.

The big spring question is ... Is Jeff Tuel ready to take control of the quarterback job and not look back? He gave hope for the future in Pullman as a true freshman, winning the job in October and playing well before suffering a season-ending kneecap injury. With all of his top receivers back from a year ago, headed by Jared Karstetter, there's cautious optimism that he can start igniting the passing game and start conjuring up images of some of the great hurlers that have passed through the Palouse over the years.

The most important position to watch is ... center. Of the half-dozen or so seniors who've graduated, none will be missed more than Kenny Alfred, a two-time all-star. He was the lone rock up front for the Cougars and the kind of veteran presence that can help with the development of a young quarterback. The tall task of replacing him belongs to either walk-on Chris Prummer or Andrew Roxas, who sat out 2009 after contracting hepatitis. If neither are up to the promotion, one of the guards could be moved inside.

Spring attitude... After going through the worst two-year stretch in school history, Washington State will be content with baby steps in the spring and beyond. There's no way around the defense being a continued liability, so the Cougars will concentrate more of their efforts to getting the offense ramped up. They'll throw a lot at Tuel, who has a nice complement of receivers and could be teamed up with talented RB James Montgomery, who missed most of 2009 following calf surgery.